High Middle Childhood

The title phrase is one of many memorable ones deployed by Siri Hustvedt in The Blazing World. In the book, it’s part of a journal entry by the artist at the center of the story, and it swiftly captures the facts and feelings pertinent to her granddaughter’s age. (For this reader, it applies even more crucially to Anker’s.)

All photos taken by the author with the Fujifilm X-T20 and edited in Lightroom. Published with permission from Franek’s family.

New Year’s Nocturne

It’s a tradition by now: I stay at home and the evening winds up special not because my plans are, but because one year is ending while another one begins. This time, the midnight show was a good pretext to reach for the new camera. I fired away indiscriminately, hoping for a few keepers and expecting the expected. Instead, I got this: corkscrew smoke plumes and a record not of the rainbow festivity on display, but rather of the noise, dust and odor. A beautiful one, to be sure, but the uncut truth, just the same.


The remaining three hundred photos were unworthy of sharing or even keeping in my archive. Seriously, this is the one out of hundreds, recorded ninety-one seconds into 2018 with the Fujifilm XT-20 and the 90mm/f2.0. If it’s an omen, let’s hope it’s a good one.

Deck the Halls 2017

This year what might have been a time of renewed grief following my father’s death last April (or plain old stress, or failed holiday expectations) has instead been an experience of abundance—of family and food and energy, yes, but also of time itself. On reflection, that’s probably exactly what the Holidays are about (and have been ever since people figured out the winter solstice), but it’s the first time I’ve experienced such a winning combination of ease, verve, and glory. Grief has a place in this wintry mélange, but it is a nostalgic and buoyant kind, conducive to ornament-making, ice skating, and delighting in a well-placed shock of pretend snow.

All photos by the author, each a metonym for the people beyond the frame and each, I hope, a document of universal December wonder.

Autumn in Warsaw

The brisk air, the fading light, rust-hued leaves rustling and decaying—I come back to all this with revelry every year. Maybe because I was born in October, therefore autumn in Warsaw will forever capture the default setting for the world itself as I know it. Or maybe what has me so delighted is fall’s promise of a winterful of nights at home that seem to last all day. Either way, these November weekday morning shots in Mysia street manage to apprehend the season at it’s gold-flecked gray extreme. (The new Fuji helped me frame this, but it’s the tourist’s eye I recently honed in Portugal that got me to see it in the first place.)

Olá Portugal!


As soon as I wrote I’ve had it with traveling in one long essay last summer, I found myself obsessively planning a proper vacation for myself and my son during his fall break from school. After considering Greece, Italy, Spain, Goa and the Canary Islands, I settled on a combination of sea and city in not-so-distant Portugal. Airline tickets were purchased, a car was reserved, accommodations were booked, a foldaway kite was procured. And on the last Friday in October our family of two plunged into our first ever foreign adventure. We spent six nights near the southern edge of the Alentejo coast, soaking up unseasonably perfect weather on a different beach every day and discovering nearby sites in Algarve. Next, we zipped back up to Lisbon by way of out-of-the-way Sintra, to explore tourism’s other side, which we agreed was interesting enough, but exhausting in comparison with empty beaches in low season and sleepy sunlit villages along the Atlantic. On the tenth day we went home, stunned at the way not much time had passed but how so much had managed to happen, and amazed at the way we now know exactly what it’s like to spend nine days in Portugal.

The photos I’ve chosen illustrate a composite story—about family time; about rediscovering the thrill of photography while figuring out a new camera; about a country less classically “southern” than expected, bracingly unostentatious and tinged with a kind of relaxed aloofness that recalls not Italy but Scandinavia. All were taken in ambient light with the Fujifilm X-T20 and the Fujinon 23mm f/1.4 lens. (Given the Fuji’s crop factor, this is functionally a 35-mm lens, which may well be the optimal leisure-travel combo of width and reach, with a range of depth options and practically no distortion.) The images shown are my favorites out of hundreds: specifically, out of the 550 that I snapped, of which 450 made it home, only to become 200 after import and the requisite vetting in Lightroom. (Note to my mother: you get to see all two hundred whenever you like!)

A Thing or Two About Turning Forty

Contrary to what I imagined, and definitely against most that I’ve been told, turning forty is not so monumental at all. Over the past three or four years, I’ve actually grown accustomed to being “almost forty” and “around forty,” so there’s even a sense of relief, as though I’ve finally been let in to somewhere I have to be, after waiting at the gate way too long.

What is shocking seems elusive and lodged in my memory: a sense I once had of the weight of such an age a whole generation ago, back when I was on the brink of adulthood. How strange that so many of the things I associated with full-on maturity have now zoomed past me, like a highway sign or missed exit ramp: discovering what to do in life, finding that someone, naming those children. What used to denote grown-up life now smacks of youth. Adulthood, in turn, keeps redefining itself, and for me it has remained something that’s just about to begin for a solid twenty years. It is only now that this sense of being on the brink of life is finally lifting. This is a welcome development—hence the relief, hence a sense of quiet pride and cause for calm celebration.

At forty I am grateful to have had my son, unexpectedly satisfied to be raising him on my own, and relieved to know a lot more than I used to about the math of my emotions. I feel no shame with regard to my age, but quite a bit about what I’ve said and done in the past (especially during that awkward time between my ninth and thirty-third birthdays). Unlike the songs and motivational quotes that claim the opposite—I regret things I did way more than those I didn’t do, though luckily most of the sharp edges are gone and whatever guilt I carry is softened by nostalgia.

My dreams have shifted, too. Now what I want most for my birthday is not ecstatic gain but clean absence: no illness, few worries about my loved ones, no legal troubles, no unwanted gifts. If that seems unambitious or austere, keep in mind that the people I keep close, the work I do, the home I’ve made, and the things I do for pleasure: these beget ecstasy enough. In fact, if I squint and recall what I might have wished upon my forty-year old self two decades ago, I can make out the contours of a life that doesn’t even compare with the one I am living.

And that, I concede, is a monumental conclusion to come to on one’s otherwise quiet fortieth birthday.

The New Fuji: Early Days

When I attempted my first and only “official” camera review in 2014, I discovered I was more interested in the implications of one’s inexperience with a system than I was in any technical specifications. So if you’re in mood for the latter, I refer you to the excellent FujiVsFuji. As far as this review goes, most can be left unsaid. The pictures really do tell all—and even they are bound to evolve along with my mastery of the equipment. After all, I’m still getting used to the controls and testing my agility with the autofocus and its manual better half (my main challenge, either way, for which I blame both second-rate eyesight and iffy motor coordination). The question isn’t really if my bokeh is dazzling enough, or if the sharpness can julienne a diamond: it’s whether I’ve found a tool for capturing the scenes I need to capture to tell the stories I want to tell. So far, things look promising.

The switch I’m making is from both the maddeningly viewfinder-free 2010 Leica X1 and the superb Canon L 200mm f/2.8 (perversely mounted on the paltry 8MP Digital Rebel XT from 2005). My expectations are high, but the bar isn’t: I’m already enthralled, and I haven’t even played with all of the basic functions. My pulse-quickening kit includes the 14mm f/2.8, the 23mm f/1.4 and the 56mm f/1.2 Fujinon prime lenses (equivalents of the 21, 35 and 85 focal lengths in classic 35mm format), along with the X-T20 mirrorless body, which is almost too small, but in fact fits my hands perfectly and was worth every minute of the long wait for supply to catch up with demand. In time I may add the 90mm f/2 or the ultralight 27mm f/2.8 (or both), but for the moment I’m content with the options I’ve got, and delighted to find myself rediscovering the possibilities of photography. Because what are megapixels without the inspiration to match?

Or test shots with a new camera—what good are those if they don’t reveal something new about the person behind the lens?

Captions for a Late Summer Sky

 Photo by Natalia Osiatynska, taken in Mokotów one half hour before sunset (and minutes before a burst of rain) on 2017 08 27, using the infallible Canon L-series 200mm/f2.8 lens mounted on a laughable Canon digital Rebel XT from 2005. The image was underexposed by two stops and cautiously, imperfectly relit in Lightroom.

Photo by Natalia Osiatynska, taken in Mokotów one half hour before sunset (and minutes before a burst of rain) on 2017 08 27, using the infallible Canon L-series 200mm/f2.8 lens mounted on a laughable Canon digital Rebel XT from 2005. The image was underexposed by two stops and cautiously, imperfectly relit in Lightroom.

In Poland the clouds sport linings in gold.
Not chemtrails. Coastlines.
May even your most difficult puzzles have parts that are a joy to piece together.

Part of Captions, an emerging series.

Ore of the Woods

A work in progress can surprise you one day, suddenly endowed with permanence even as it remains incomplete. What is finished, at that point, is the experience of something as new. And maybe a reversal has occurred: the process has stepped into our role, now it is shaping us. Now it is determining its own course, with us as its proxy.

Our cabin sits atop an improbable hill on an oblong, unruly patch of the only land I’ve ever owned. It has been witness to Anker’s unfolding childhood and it is the most likely suspect behind the way I have kind of quit recreational travel. Ruda. The name of the nearby village that lends its meek administrative heft to our wooded sector (zoned for recreational use and as separate from the village as it gets) means ore, and it’s the name of at least forty-four villages throughout Poland. Anker might have been three when he inadvertently coined Ruda Lasu, a swift possessive that conveys just what it is we profitably extract from our cabin’s surroundings. Note that las is the Polish for both forest and woods, and most Poles will deploy the former term even when it’s the latter that better conveys their more casual, non-primeval meaning.

There is an evocative Japanese term, shinrin yoku, for being among trees. Forest bathing, the translation issues, and the proof follows: those volatile wood compounds wafting from trees are powerful tonics for the mind and body, so visiting a forest for sport and play helps seal the deal on a healthy lifestyle. (Don’t studies sometimes go to show the most obvious things?) But at our cabin we don’t just bathe: we get inundated. In shinrin yoku terms, we transform into creatures of the tree-sea for days at a time. Readjusting to the city is at times an ordeal (because city air is not air at all to a recalibrated body), at times a breeze (because everything is a breeze after one’s been mainlining the breath of trees).

Until a few years ago, the cabin served as my father’s little-used writing retreat, in our family since the late 90s, when my dad bought it at the behest of a friend whose history of summering in the Ruda woods had comparatively ancient origins, though it would end abruptly with the friend’s early death just years later. As for my mother, she likes to say Ruda is too far from the philharmonic. (Actually, it’s what I like to say as I claim to be quoting her.) And while it is true that my mom is neither outdoorsy nor reclusive, I suspect the real reason she never came to call the cabin her own was that, like me, she didn’t know what to do with a clunky 1970s kit house crammed with exiled furniture, defunct fax machines and long-expired non-perishables in the kitchen.

My own visits before Anker came along were no prediction of the love I would eventually gain for the place. Sparse, haphazard, forgotten—these were stopovers between a life paused and a life resumed. Each split my attention between awe for the trees and disdain for the decor. I tended to sleep on the front porch, in a sleeping bag, avoiding the interior unless I needed to use the kitchen, bathroom or sauna (which came with the house and held zero interest for my dad but plenty for me). Over awkward weekends with boyfriends who didn’t last, I don’t recall even imagining what it might be like to clear out the clutter, much less remodel the place in my image. The rules for respecting my father’s choices were unspoken but absolute: fantasies did not wander beyond certain boundaries. But life would surprise me yet, finding new spaces to grow into, and new sources of desire and perseverance and perhaps courage.

Anker and I first began planting our flag here during the summer of 2013. It was then that it became clear my half-Danish boy and I would stay put in Poland, and it was then that the process of redefining my relationship to my parents had reached a comfortable plateau: now they seemed less my looming family of origin (one step from me on the family tree) and more the adoring grandparents to my son, in his and my life on my terms (a full three hops away). Now asking my father to let me take charge of the cabin seemed less a selfish act and more one of prudent parenting. In fact, I’m not sure there was asking involved: it may well be that he offered.

So out they went: the rugs and the file cabinets, lurid velour armchairs and the cable strewn like tinsel across the worn roof. What followed was a new roof, and with it two skylights, illuminating the ever-dim pine-lined house in a way that at last revealed possibilities. In 2014 came the mattresses: four of them, luxuriously thick but placed plainly on the floor in the two compact bedrooms. In 2015, a sleek grey IKEA kitchen pushed out the fractured remains of the old. We also greeted the first of the bonfires, safely relegated to a clearing toward the back of the property and responsibly outfitted with a faucet and running water. With these bonfires, the fallen twigs and branches finally had somewhere to go, revealing the mossy vibrance of our wooded lot. As the season was concluding—these are not winterized properties, so before the frosts come the pipes get drained and the house is bolted up until springtime—my parents signed over the deed to the house and the land. Ruda Lasu was mine, in theory and in practice.

This was also the year when the new neighbors bought the adjacent property with plans to live there year-round. What a couple, too: she a nature conservationist, he a massage therapist, both raven-haired and of the right age and impressed with my cooking, versed in Ayurveda and as interested in us as we were in them. But on a cruel January day, just a half-year later, the cabin they had been renovating so fervently burned to the ground. Thus, our new neighbors became our former neighbors, and the view from our deck transformed into an unthinkable one, of a scar in the clearing where a house had once stood, mirroring ours for decades.

In 2016, the faulty wiring was fixed and sturdy new lights replaced the garish lamps of before. Again the difference was subtractive in quality: an improvement not of elegance added but of discord removed. A new vanity and toilet were installed in the bathroom, and next to them a long-awaited small-capacity washing machine. The work lagged, but what a summer it was when it finally arrived: unfettered by the tedium of hauling soiled laundry back to Warsaw, rich with the splendor of hanging clothes on a line stretched between our own pines.

For all these improvements, my generous father picked up the bill—with the signature vehemence that inflected his practice of generosity. I may not know exactly what my needs and wants wound up costing (his distinction, not mine), but I do have the sense of another kind of price. With every change I made to the house, my dad’s wistfulness grew. On his infrequent visits, he would pace the property, joking about notions of paradise and loss, the humor a poor cover for what might have been a sea of regret. At the same time, my father’s inability to recognize the value of an airy, alluring interior was subsiding, and with it his reluctance toward my enthusiasm. Each year, at some point I would mention that Anker and I had spent thirty or forty nights at the cabin that season alone—and my father would say that he probably spent as many nights here over fifteen years. He would sometimes ask if he could borrow the house for a few days, and I would often offer. I even made a habit of stacking kindling and logs in the fireplace before leaving for Warsaw, so he might enjoy the fire he never attempted himself. He asked and I offered, but he never did come, and I was not really surprised, nor was I exactly disappointed, because the boundaries of his territorialism marked mine, too. He knew and I knew: my invitations were well-intentioned sentiments of gratitude and decency—but I was not about to let him impart chaos on my order.

When the 2017 season arrived, things were different. The quarter-mile of disintegrating chicken wire encircling the property struck me not as in need of replacing, but as gracefully weathered and perfectly integrated with the land. The cabin’s patchy foundation seemed fine, painting it no longer a priority. Resealing the shower could wait and so would trimming the trees and planting blackberries. Though unfinished, our summer house was complete. And in Warsaw my father was dying.

Some of our last exchanges were about Ruda. About how we both couldn’t believe I’m finally done with the renovations. About how amazing it is to be headed to the cabin for a brisk April weekend. I hope you don’t mind that I’m leaving, I chirped to my withered father, and for a minute we shared in my elation. That evening, upon arrival, I sent my father the requisite text. We made it safely, the woods are sublime. Soon, I got a usual reply. Thank you, goodnight. How could I know these would be the last words my father would ever write? Or his last lucid response to my stab at communication?

I was a city child, raised is the vicinity of universities and philharmonics, and then I was a city adult, well-adapted to living on a seventh floor and working from home. I am coming late to the experiences a summer home offers, discovering their dazzling, edifying, restorative magic alongside my son, my wonder a lot like his, if less uninhibited. Every day eighty-five hours long and perfectly quiet. Books. Board games. Wild strawberries edging the house, tart bilberries for miles. Kanika, our family’s husky, now twelve. Hammocks. Homemade pesto. Fat mattresses that don’t threaten knocked shins or stubbed toes. Laundry aflutter on the line. The resin-scented heat of that sauna. Composting things. Sprouting things. Tending to the herbs. Hunting wild mushrooms. Preferring that there is no dishwasher. Having no more furniture than is necessary. Never making trips to the store. Getting sweaty stoking a bonfire with a thousand fallen twigs. Dabbling in pottery. Dabbling in having company. Every day, sweeping the deck of the sand that is everywhere and of the copious dust shed by our evergreens. Having reception so bad one gives up and forgets the internet. Magazines. Jigsaw puzzles. A child’s toddler-era toys, a father’s ashes. And a ritual stacking of kindling and logs in the fireplace before leaving for Warsaw.

The summer of 2017 is a time of mourning, but it is defiant with pleasure and tangled with paradox. A house stripped of a man winds up brimming with his spirit. Everything is a comment on a relationship, each detail evidence of a father’s generosity. Opposites, it turns out, aren’t necessarily made of difference. Consider, for instance, how identically unthinkable it was, for either of us, to attempt some way of owning the cabin together. But, in our way, haven’t we all along? This place—this stage for so much living—it has been an ore of more than we imagined. A victory for me. For my father, a sacrifice.

Osiatynska has posted about the cabin twice before—once when the neighboring property first went on sale and again, last year, to describe her plunge into mushroom foragingAll photos are by the author, with the exception of the one she is in, by her son.


Work itself is an easement, or rather the completion of work, the proof of one’s capacity for it. Submitting articles that might as well equal their weight in tears of gold. The first, a possibly intimate one about the way tableware affects the experience of flavor, the other a zealous inquiry into olive oil. The writing, agonizing until it wasn’t (an easement as clear as Helvetica on a Retina display). Then, following up with countertop photos to accompany the writing: more proof, more relief, more easement. The weightlessness of momentum.

Tending to flowers is another kind of easement. Selecting or receiving them, arranging them, changing the water. Culling the bouquet until one stem survives, shorter now by increments, still fragrant and more beautiful than when it first arrived, one of seven, one week earlier.

Sleeping, breathing, a walk, a bath. These are, of course, the fundamental easements, but they are elusive or outright unappealing. The stressed body yearns to stay tense, the frustrated mind doesn’t like to relax. Hence the substitute easements: controlling objects into submission to create illusions of wonder. Cleaning things, arranging things, creating things worth admiring. Amid the projected emerges the real: exquisite tea in a favorite cup, honey by the spoonful, a child’s seventh birthday, the leafy zing of a fine olive oil, and then its nutty sweetness.

Life finds ways to assert itself after a father’s death. Obligations lead the way and the senses follow, until even pleasure returns from wherever it was it had to go to survive.

All photos by the author, taken in daylight using the Leica X1 (because the Fujifilm X-T20 is still not available) and edited in Lightroom. The articles referenced will appear in upcoming issues of Magazyn Wino and Ferment.

Surviving My Father

 Our family’s memorial notice in the newspaper, amid another day’s torrent of the condolences from friends and institutions that helped us through the hardest of times.

Our family’s memorial notice in the newspaper, amid another day’s torrent of the condolences from friends and institutions that helped us through the hardest of times.

One week ago my dad got the funeral he deserved: big, unorthodox, overflowing with gratitude both expressed and remembered. The day was a Friday, sunny and quiet—a harbinger of the summer to come. The speakers delivered their eulogies effusively, their fondness sometimes at odds with their sorrow. When I spoke, I spoke about what I imagined my father would have been grateful for himself, could he be there (that so many people were there to celebrate his memory; that he had been allowed to die at home, with me and my mother by his side; that the liberals had finally scored one for our side in France). I recounted in detail the time he told me, maybe a decade ago, that he believed the meaning of life was to create more kindness in the world. (Make no mistake, I said, he did not always have the patience to be kind, but he did regard kindness as the highest of virtues.) That day had been a quiet and warm one as well.

When my father was nearing death, I would occasionally turn to the poems he loved most, ones directly and indirectly about dying. I imagined I would find solace in them after his passing, and make them central to my experience of grieving, with its sleepless nights and requirement for verbal decorum. Startlingly, the very Iwaszkiewicz eulogy I translated into English for my father’s seventieth birthday, two tangled years ago, never made it into the speech I gave at the memorial. Just as in life my dad seemed perversely unafraid of death, in death he’s been impervious to poetics on dying.

Grief, I am discovering, consists not of epitaphs and tears, but of bewilderment and a sense of waiting (as if for the heaviness to lift, or merely for the pain to become unremarkable). My loss is not merely of the wonder that was a father’s love for an only daughter, but of the chance to right wrongs long abandoned, by both of us, as well as ones just uncovered.

 My father’s hand, adorned with a tiny heart-shaped scab that did not escape my attention. Photo taken in Siena on May 19, 2006—an astonishing 11 years, 11 months and 11 days before the day my father would die.

My father’s hand, adorned with a tiny heart-shaped scab that did not escape my attention. Photo taken in Siena on May 19, 2006—an astonishing 11 years, 11 months and 11 days before the day my father would die.

Eastern Easter

This year, we celebrated not tradition but the spirit of it: modern springtime food that need not make up for a winterful of hunger. Also—our little family’s very definition of “special” fare.

I’ve finally mastered the inside-out roll, it appears. I’ve also confirmed that red onion, sliced paper-thin, makes an exemplary stand-in for scallion (featured here in the gingered salmon tartare atop the cucumber-salmon futomaki). As for the sushi meal itself—I’m enjoying it much, much more as brunch than I ever did as dinner, for reasons involving both daylight and digestion. There’s also the complex math of running at least an hour late to get the food on the table (a problem minor at lunchtime but compounded by evening).

We visited family, too, where hearts were heavy with sadness for a loved one who is ill, but the main culinary event was the sushi for two at home.

Head Lice: a Memory

The photos were taken exactly two years ago today, one day after Anker’s swoop of hair was abruptly shorn (to the no doubt insufferable accompaniment of a mother’s shrieky disgust). And two things strike me as remarkable.

One, he does not seem “so little, even though it seems like yesterday”: sure, it seems like yesterday, but he is basically as I know him today; wearing a shirt I love, which he still wears, and those jean shorts that are roomy even now. This marks a new era, I suppose, one in which two years no longer an exponential difference make.

And two—having lice is no big deal, it turns out. I remember the horror then, both of us, infested, repugnant, marked. And how Marta hastened to convince me, over Skype, that those chemical treatments are unnecessary and combing alone is highly effective, and how moments later Ola drove all the way from Piaseczno to drop off the clever ZapX™ C200 comb (with the “helical micro-toothed tubular structure” that “offers better efficiency without any use of aggressive treatments while protecting the scalp”)—and in mere days lice were eradicated, a phobia conquered. These days I take pleasure in observing that, before having lice, I would not have agreed to have lice for a million dollars, whereas now I’d probably agree for, like, five hundred bucks. Seriously, they never fall into your food, and it’s really an easy fix.

Fresh Pix

So it’s last Sunday and Magazyn Wino needs the photos, like, yesterday. They’re supposed to accompany my next piece, Kryzys, Czyli Szansa, which explores the food-and-wine side of contemporary health-driven diets (one such diet, in any case). So there I am and time is short and I need both an illustrative idea and presentable photos. If there’s cooking and plating involved, I need to hurry before I’m all out of daylight or stamina or both. And then it occurs to me to skip pretty much everything and go straight for the essence. Three fruity shots in, I’m loving it all: the pictures, my job, the article, plants as food, the gleaming kitchen counter that doubles as my photography studio—and month five of the elimination-rotation diet that has benefited much, much more than my thyroid. Here is a cross-section of those vibrant cross-sections I captured that day, to whet your appetite for the next issue of Magazyn Wino. In the meantime, I recommend the issue out now: a veritable coupage of wine-driven culture, including my piece on bisque-style vegetable soups, entitled Po Prostu Miazga.

All photos taken by the author using the Leica X1 and random shiny white paraphrenalia to harness the light. Edited in Lightroom, without which none of this would even approach the stock-level adequacy on display. All rights reserved.

An Education

It’s unclear who had the bigger job: the one forced to do the writing or the one forced to do the forcing. Either way, the results were a victory for all.

Food Writing Update

 Freshly rolled cracker dough made with amaranth flour, ground sunflower seeds, grated beetroot, water, olive oil, chia seeds, poppy seeds, caraway seeds and salt. Image (and dough, and recipe) by the author, taken under the kitchen lights with the Leica X1.

Freshly rolled cracker dough made with amaranth flour, ground sunflower seeds, grated beetroot, water, olive oil, chia seeds, poppy seeds, caraway seeds and salt. Image (and dough, and recipe) by the author, taken under the kitchen lights with the Leica X1.

One year and seven essays into writing my very own column for Magazyn Wino, I am equal parts satisfied, grateful and relieved. I’m proud of the achievement, which is both more tangible than so much of the confidentiality-bound work that I do—and infinitely more mouth-watering. (It is also in Polish, and I seem to have passed what loomed as a long-overdue test in my non-English writing ability.) I’m grateful to the amazing team at Magazyn Wino, both past and present, for trusting me with the job and for the ways they’ve inspired me to produce essays worth reading. And I’m relieved to find the writing itself increasingly familiar and manageable. Sure, it’s still pretty overwhelming to get an article ready for review, but it’s no longer a nightmare to get started in the first place, or to figure out when I’m done.

Pictured below is my content in the final two issues of Magazyn Wino in 2016. One was a deep dive into stock, the other a scrutiny of the spice rack. Coming soon is my essay on cream soups, which I wrote in January, featuring a handful of inspiring ideas and a handy master recipe. Then, in the April issue, I’ll be divulging the details of an unexpected diet I’ve been following—and sharing a few recipes, possibly including the one for these amazing wheat-free beet crackers, above, which have become a crispy, crunchy household favorite. But that’s an essay I haven’t even begun to start finishing yet. Hence this post, I guess: a wayward excursion away from the piece I actually need to be writing.

 Essay and image by the author, published in Magazyn Wino 2016/5.

Essay and image by the author, published in Magazyn Wino 2016/5.

 Essay and image by the author, published in Magazyn Wino 2016/6.

Essay and image by the author, published in Magazyn Wino 2016/6.

Making Millet Edible

Known to many only for its role in bird feed and pig fodder, millet is a gluten-free grain with some amazing health benefits. Notably, it’s rich in iron, hostile to candida and highly alkalizing (a boon in these over-acidified times). According to Ayurveda, millet counteracts cold and congested conditions by heating and drying the body. Then again, Chinese medicine puts it down as a cooling grain, though surely one with potential for a mid-winter meal.

Unfortunately, most of the time millet’s pretty camel-yellow beads wind up pasty, mushy or gluey when cooked. While some insist on defending this “creamy” texture, I find it insipid and incompatible with millet’s metalllic-tinged, slightly bitter flavor profile. In fact, what this grain needs most is fluffiness, nutty and sweet toasted notes and a tooth-engaging chew. Luckily there’s a pretty easy way to make it so.

The secret is to combine loads of pre-rinsing with some heating action before the actual cooking takes place. The best way, which I first discovered in The Splendid Grain by American natural foods expert Rebecca Wood, involves toasting, then rinsing, then cooking the grains using the absorption method in a covered pot. Another, related, solution is to use several changes of boiling water to give the millet the thorough rinsing it requires. (Obviously when the water is scalding hot, you can’t use your fingers to rub the grains gently together and rid them of their chalky dust; use a wooden spoon.)

To toast the grains lightly in an oven, try 5-10 minutes at 170°C, staying as vigilant as when toasting easy-to-burn nuts and seeds. Or use a skillet over moderate heat, stirring, tossing or shaking constantly. It’s important to keep the grains from burning or turning dark before cooking. Three minutes in a cast-iron skillet usually does the trick. If you burn a batch—save it for the birds and start over. Next, it’s crucial to rinse the toasted grains thoroughly in several changes of cold water. Get in there, use your hands; you want the rinse water to run clear. To cook, cover the strained grains with double their volume of boiling water, add a fat dash of salt and a spoonful of butter or ghee, cover tightly and simmer for 15-20 minutes. Remove from heat, but let stand, covered, for at least 10 more minutes. Uncover, fluff, season to taste with plenty more salty butter and serve.

This is how we make one of the basic morning meals at our house, usually tossing in a few quartered dried figs and five or six green cardamom pods with the millet. We then add additional ghee, toasted nuts and honey or maple syrup at the table. Nutmeg and cinnamon make another great flavor combination, alongside a smattering of raisins. Or try chopped dried apricots (orange or brown) and pitted dates nestled in with a vanilla bean. For us, millet has become an archetypal breakfast dish, so we don’t experiment with swapping in olive oil and sweated onion for the butter and fruit, or stock for the boiling water. But that’s the way to go if it’s dinner you’re after.

As you can see, making millet edible is not only possible, but quite easy. Though I should probably mention that sometimes it also requires a lot of maple syrup, and maybe also the undivided attention of one who is willing to play Mikado ad infinitum.

A Grand Ending

Days before the year’s close, another dismantling was on display outside our windows. Breathtaking views tugged at unexpecting heart strings, coloring the monumental with shades of nostalgia. The workers, strangers before, now waved back to a captivated boy and the mom with the camera. The fourth wall demolished, lives on display. It felt like the last day of summer, heavy and fleeting at once.

What had begun so concurrently with our own grand-scale reconstruction as to seem a reflection of it had grown apart from us, into familiar permanence. A beacon of industry regarded with nothing but wonder. A weathervane for the astronauts. A colossal plant on the windowsill, turning as if toward and away from the sun. Now, the giant stalk is picked apart, dimensions collapse, a landscape is shocked into change.

The transition is over, the construction has been a success. Soon, orchids will peek out of windows that haven’t yet been fitted with panes. It is, so aptly, a time to celebrate endings, embrace emergence, mourn permanence.

In the year to come, we will remember the crane that seemed close enough to reach out and touch with our hands. We will strive to live well, wave back, bear loss and reclaim the sky.

Photos of the construction site at Warsaw’s Różana taken by the author on the morning of December 28, 2016. Emotions ran high, routines were disruptive: key moments were missed, but the spirit has been captured.

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Cream of Beet Soup With Rosemary—and the Pots That Inspired It

Cream of beet soup with rosemary and garlic-rosemary croutons in legendary Eva Trio cookware by Danish designer Ole Palsby for Eva Solo. Photo by the author, taken with the Leica X1.

Earthy and woodsy, filling yet vegetal, cream of beet soup with rosemary is both a fresh take on Polish holiday food and warming all-purpose winter fare. Made with water instead of stock, it is easy to prepare and boasts clean flavors that marry well with a garnish of olive-oil croutons seasoned with garlic and rosemary. Other tasty possible toppings include roasted or sautéed potatoes or yams, as well as raw apples or pears, chopped and dressed lightly with cider vinegar or lemon juice and fruity olive oil.

You can download the recipe, but be warned it’s po polsku. If Polish isn’t your thing, here’s a summary: Soften a small onion or a couple of shallots in olive oil, along with the finely minced leaves of one stem of rosemary (about 1 tsp, which is plenty). Add a smashed clove of garlic, making sure nothing is browning. Now add three medium beets and one medium potato, peeled and in chunks, enough water to cover and at least a half-teaspoon of salt. Cook at a steady simmer, until the vegetables yield to a fork. Season the soup with salt, pepper and lemon juice or cider vinegar to taste. When it cools a bit, transfer to a free-standing blender or blend carefully using an immersion blender. Add water by the tablespoon to reach the desired consistency and adjust seasoning as required. When ready to eat, heat only what you need: beets lose their gorgeous color when reheated willy-nilly. Serve with swirls of cream or drizzles of olive oil, making sure to include chunky toppings of croutons, potatoes, sweet potatoes, smoked fish, chopped fruit or crumbled cheese if you’ve opted for a one-course meal.

Jewel-toned cream of beet soup with rosemary boasts clean, earthy and woodsy flavors that marry well with both aromatic croutons and the spicy sweetness of roasted yams. Porcelain plates by Hutschenreuther. Photo by the author, taken in daylight with the Leica X1.

For those here to read about more than the food, I have a bit to explain. For instance, how I fantasized about the iconic cookware line by Ole Palsby, designed in 1979 for Danish housewares company Eva Solo, years before I ever allowed myself the indulgence. And then, once I finally had my chosen selection of pots and ingeniously flat lids, how I immediately proceeded to ruin one of the brand-new snow white soup pots with my metal-tipped immersion blender. As it turned out, the ceramic coating, although excellent in countless ways, doesn’t withstand abuse from metal utensils. After some deliberating, I decided to replace two of the White Line stockpots with sturdy stainless equivalents—which also offer faster responsiveness with an induction cooktop, as well as a rivet-free interior, which I prefer.

I am thrilled with the design and functionality of my pots, saucepans and those ingeniously flat, stackable, game-changing lids (the glass ones are turning out to be my favorite). I am, of course, more cautious than I had planned to be with the saucepan surfaces, but the extra care is well worth the advantages of a blank canvas for the food as it cooks, with true non-stick functionality and outstanding heat transfer. I have a feeling I won’t be able to resist adding to my collection of award-winning Eva Trio cookware.

Captions for a Winter Scene

Photo taken by the author using the Leica X1 just before noon on Friday, December 2, 2016.

1. The crane persists at a snail’s pace and a view transforms in slow motion.

b. Modern-day Bruegel? (One of them, anyway.)

III. A thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle waits to happen.